Pagan Black Metal

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Pagan Black Metal is a sub-genre of Black Metal music that musically sits somewhere between the traditional black metal sound as pioneered by the early Norwegian black metal scene and Melodic Black Metal. The atmosphere of the genre is generally raw and primitive sounding yet the guitars tend towards a less abrasive and more melodic tone. In addition, pagan black metal makes use of a degree of folk influences, either played on real instruments or replicated through modern technology. Clean singing will often be featured alongside black metal growling. It shares some similarities to Viking Metal, and due to its folk elements many pagan black metal artists have also produced releases that may be considered fully-fledged Folk Metal.

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NAGELFAR Hünengrab im Herbst Album Cover Hünengrab im Herbst
NAGELFAR
4.69 | 11 ratings
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HAVUKRUUNU Kelle surut soi Album Cover Kelle surut soi
HAVUKRUUNU
4.40 | 6 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Weltanschauung Album Cover Weltanschauung
NOKTURNAL MORTUM
4.29 | 13 ratings
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АРКОНА Храм Album Cover Храм
АРКОНА
4.29 | 5 ratings
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CNOC AN TURSA The Forty Five Album Cover The Forty Five
CNOC AN TURSA
4.25 | 4 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM The Taste of Victory Album Cover The Taste of Victory
NOKTURNAL MORTUM
4.17 | 3 ratings
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PRIMORDIAL Imrama Album Cover Imrama
PRIMORDIAL
4.05 | 7 ratings
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PRIMORDIAL Storm Before Calm Album Cover Storm Before Calm
PRIMORDIAL
4.00 | 4 ratings
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DARKESTRAH Epos Album Cover Epos
DARKESTRAH
4.00 | 4 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Мировоззрение Album Cover Мировоззрение
NOKTURNAL MORTUM
3.92 | 6 ratings
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MARȚOLEA Noaptea Dihãniilor Album Cover Noaptea Dihãniilor
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WINTERFYLLETH The Ghost of Heritage Album Cover The Ghost of Heritage
WINTERFYLLETH
3.75 | 4 ratings
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pagan black metal Music Reviews

АРКОНА Храм

Album · 2018 · Pagan Black Metal
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adg211288
Russia's Аркона (A.K.A. Arkona, used herein) must surely be their country's premium folk metal band. They've been releasing albums since 2004's Возрождение (Vozrozhdenie), but become something really special with 2005's Во славу великим! (Vo Slavu Velikim!), actually their third album by that point due to releasing Лепта (Lepta) later in 2004. Most recently, in 2016, they went back and remade their debut album in a much more polished yet faithful to the original version, complete with more authentic folk instrumentation as they were synthesising a lot of stuff when they first started, a treatment that I hope they give Lepta as well. Before that though the band had released Явь (Yav) in 2014, an album that saw them taking different approaches in their music. It's an album that can be seen as, through the kind of hindsight that can only be gained through the release of it's follow-up, Храм (Khram), as the kind of transitional, stepping stone release to the band becoming something different. Arkona may be Russia's premium folk metal act, but in 2018 their genre allegiance has taken a thoroughly more blackened turn.

Of course Arkona was always partially based in the black metal genre, also drawing on power metal in some songs, but here it's like the genre has taken over from folk metal as the band's main focus. Khram is not so much a folk metal album but a pagan black metal album. That means that there's still folk elements to be found, but it's much more about the blackened riff and a primitive sound. Vocalist Masha "Scream" Arkhipova still uses her clean singing abilities, but is dominantly using her growling style on this record. This is not to say that her growl suddenly sounds like the typical necro black metal rasp (it doesn't) or that the guitar tone is suddenly all raw and cold (it isn't), but the overall style and vibe of the band's music has certainly taken a shift. Yet it's still very much recognisable as the work of Arkona.

They've also got noticeably more progressive with this release. Yav had elements of what I would attribute to prog but it's much more overt here and has resulted in some added complexity within the primitive pagan black metal sound Arkona has forged for themselves. This also comes across in the form of some long song structures. Intro and Outro tracks aside the only regular length song can be said to be Шторм (Shtorm) at 5:12. The rest are all at least close to eight minutes long and one, Целуя жизнь (Tseluya zhizn') is over seventeen, making it Arkona's longest song to date.

I have one gripe I need to get off my chest at this point though. It's the intro track and by extension the outro track, both titled Мантра (Mantra). The Outro version only lasts for fifty-five seconds and it's really of any consequence but the Intro version goes on for too long at 3:51 before the first proper song gets underway. I wouldn't mind so much, but the chant-based intro just fails to really click with me on any level and proves a detraction from the release as a whole. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to start the album on track two.

However the rest of the rest is excellent. Khram is definitely more of a grower than Arkona's folk metal work, thanks in no small part to its darker sound, so it may take a few listens before it really starts to feel like it's rewarding its listener for their patience. The extra long track, Tseluya zhizn', certainly stands out as the crowning achievement of the album, but there's some great work to be found right across it, with plenty of variation in the delivery of each track that gives each identity, such as the use of piano on Волчица (Volchitsa), which is actually a cover song, originally by Russian folk group ВеданЪ КолодЪ (Vedan Kolod). Arkona has released covers before, but I believe this is the first one to appear on a main album. Despite the original artist having nothing to do with metal and Arkona's newfound more black metal direction the track fits in well with their original material.

The question is, given their folk metal back catalogue, whether Khram is really the album fans wanted to hear from Arkona? For some it's inevitable that the answer will be no. For others, this will be a breath of fresh air. This band has done several folk metal masterpieces that, frankly, they'd have difficultly in bettering. It's time now for something new. It's time for Khram.

HAVUKRUUNU Kelle surut soi

Album · 2017 · Pagan Black Metal
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adg211288
Pagan black metal may just be the most loosely defined of the black metal sub-genres, if only by virtue of the fact that's its so often crossed with another black metal genre, usually atmospheric, that scant few artists actually play what could be described as pure pagan black metal. It's often used to add flavour and vibe to what is otherwise music that clearly belongs to the other sub-genre, with the work of acts such as Drudkh, Saor, Wodensthrone and Darkestrah springing to mind. Others simply exist on the fringes of it, otherwise playing fairly traditional black metal. More still amplify the folk element to it and ultimately become actual folk metal. As such, exactly what makes pagan black metal is something that, much like with the semi-related viking metal genre, is often misunderstood and categorised as a pseudo genre. This is not actually true. One band who excels at making pagan black metal as a distinct genre in its own right is Finland's Havukruunu, whose second full-length album Kelle Surut Soi (2017), puts them right up there with their countrymen Wyrd in that regard.

For most genres, describing something as textbook is like another way of saying it's completely generic, but that's not an argument that can really be applied the same way to pagan black metal, for the above reason. So when I say that Havukruunu play textbook pagan black metal on Kelle Surut Soi, I don't say it to be demeaning, but in admiration that these guys manage to capture this elusive genre so whole-heartedly. Folksy and with plenty of acoustic guitars to be heard right from the opening notes of Jo Näkyvi Pohjan Portit, yet with never a shortage of black metal riff work, some of it fast and some of it slower, with vocals that move between traditional growling and heathen chanting, results in songs that display a triumphant, epic character. The music feels tailored to celebrate the band's native Finland and its pagan ancestry.

Not being a Finnish speaker, following the lyrics of Kelle Surut Soi is a no go for me, but as with full-on folk metal I only find that to add to the authenticity of the compositions and the atmosphere the music creates. It's certainly not an issue against enjoying the release immensely, as Havukruunu's sound is quick to ensnare the eardrums. Not only is the black metal aspect satisfying and convincingly delivered, but everything else applied to it is tastefully done, especially the acoustic guitars. It results in an album that, even though it passes the fifty minute mark, is very easy to get so engrossed by that you don't notice the time passing at all. I would say that hands down, as few and far between as they are, that Kelle Surut Soi is the best pagan black metal release I've yet come across. This album represents a real lesson in how it should be done!

NEPHILIM'S HOWL Through the Marrow of Human Suffering

Album · 2017 · Pagan Black Metal
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adg211288
Finnish trio Nephilim's Howl, a band formed in 2015, clearly aren't intending to start their career by being pigeon-holed. It's obvious from their music found on their debut album Through the Marrow of Human Suffering (2017) that they are a black metal band, but beyond that they're a bit more difficult to fathom. They're clearly not a traditionally minded act from the school of Mayhem or Darkthrone and they're certainly not exactly progressive or avant-garde either, nor are they as depressive as the album title may suggest them to be. So what exactly are they?

To be honest with you, I don't find that Through the Marrow of Human Suffering completely fits into any established black metal sub-genre, but the one I do find it to have the most in common with musically is the so called pagan black metal style. It's not the most obvious of conclusions, I know. Nephilim's Howl certainly don't present the typical imagery for the genre either, in fact one look at that title and even the cover art and it would be all to easy to assume that this really was something from the depressive black metal style but while the album does have some elements similar to the DSBM genre such as sorrowful cleanly sung vocals (nowhere near as tortured or despairing as is DSBM) the atmosphere the record creates is altogether different. Less suicidal and more raw and primal, like it's somehow metal that comes from an ancient time. More...pagan.

Typically mid-paced with some minor underlying influence of doom metal, but also occasional bursts of speed, Nephilim's Howl have recorded five tracks for this debut album. In some ways it's very much a no frills attached kind of album, but it does prove to be quite varied in its approach, making use of more melodic sections every now and then as well as synth parts and also featuring a varied vocal style ranging from more traditional growling, the sorrowful clean singing I mentioned earlier, and also semi-harsh shouts. The cleaner vocals are not the most pleasant on the ears but they do fit with the whole primal atmosphere the band has going for them on the album. The mixed vocal approach is equally likely to be a draw to some black metal fans and an acquired taste to others.

Overall, Through the Marrow of Human Suffering continually proves itself to be a very engaging debut release from Nephilim's Howl. The band's best achievement on it has to be the final title track which is a three part song, making it their longest at over twelve minutes. The biggest selling point of course is the album's difficultly to compare it completely to the works of other artists, making it a recommended release for those looking for something of the atypical kind.

DARKESTRAH Turan

Album · 2016 · Pagan Black Metal
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adg211288
Kyrgyzstan isn't a country exactly well known for its metal bands. A quick online search for example reveals under a dozen ever known to have released anything. Best known of these bands is black metal act Darkestrah, who have been around since 1990 and have released six full-length albums, the latest being this one, Turan (2016). With long-time vocalist Kriegtalith now out of the picture, the band recorded the album with a session vocalist, Merkith, who now seems to have become their permanent replacement.

The music on Turan is atmospheric based pagan black metal. The use of synths and cello gives the album some lightly symphonic touches, though nothing up to the level associated with actual symphonic (black) metal. Some folk influences show themselves every now and then and when they do they err towards what I assume must be the traditional music of Kyrgyzstan, which gives Turan some unique flavours, heard prominently in tracks such as Erlik-Khan. Some of the additional instruments used alongside the traditional metal setup and cello are the mandolin and temir-komuz, the latter of which is a new one on me and I had to look up what it was. Apparently it's a Kyrgyz jaw harp. The band's style isn't always so overt as on Erlik-Khan and other tracks require a focussed listen to make out the fine details that give each track its identity.

Turan is a six track album with a total playing time of 52:24 minutes, with the shortest composition being Gleaming Madness at 6:59 minutes. The longest the album gets up to is its opener One with the Grey Spirit (10:22), however this track's first half basically serves as a really quite drawn out introduction for the release, the kind other bands may have made a separate track on the album, so once the whole band actually get going it doesn't seem to be such a long song after all. To my ears it's a little too long to wait for things to really kick off. It's one of those cases where it makes me want to yell at the band to get on with it.

The long introduction aside, Turan is still a very substantial album from Darkestrah. Solidly written and performed while also offering up some ideas that I've not heard a metal band doing before (this also being my first experience of Darkestrah's music – it won't be the last). The real issue holding the release back is that the music does tend towards a mid-paced tempo which coupled with the long track durations does make some of them, such as the 9:46 Bird of Prey, seem a bit elongated and could either do with a few minutes shaved off, with perhaps an extra track or two then substituted to make up the total time, or some additional experimentation with the traditional instruments, because those parts are certainly the most interesting aspects of the album that sets the band apart from the crowd.

FOLGE DEM WIND To Summon Twilight

Album · 2014 · Pagan Black Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
French Black Metallers Folge Dem Wind are back with their third full-length album, and it would certainly be correct in saying that this isn’t exactly the easiest album to listen to. They are fans of the harsh primitive version of the genre, which the label describes as “a desperate, chaotic and primordial ritual of paleolithic darkness”, which I wish I had written as it is a really good description of what is blasting through my speakers. There is a great deal going on, all of it feeling nasty and evil, but I just wish that the vocals had been high in the mix and whenever I play this I feel that there is a strange split between the vocals and the music, almost as if two separate people had mixed the elements with little or no regard for the other. I fully understand that the final sound must be what they were looking for (it was mastered by Tom Kvålsvoll at Strype Audio (Dimmu Borgir, Emperor)), but to my ears it hearkens back too much to the DIY cassette industry. Kilvaras’s vocals are an acquired taste, but they lose impact by being too low in the overall sound.

Overall it is a solid piece of work, but nothing more than that, and only really of interest to fans of the harsher more chaotic forms of Black metal. www.auralmusic.com

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